Mpumelelo Mkhabela

Removing Mbete should be our first priority

2016-12-02 08:43
Baleka Mbete

Baleka Mbete

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National Assembly Speaker Baleka Mbete has thoroughly discredited the institution. 

Under her leadership, the National Assembly – and by extension Parliament – has lost its moral high ground as the ultimate representative of the people.  

Parliament has failed to respect the laws that it has passed, including the supreme law of the land. The Constitutional Court judgment on Nkandla found that Parliament failed to act in accordance with the Constitution. Mbete, who is supposed to provide leadership and guidance to the institution, responded by doing nothing. For her it was business as usual. 

The same judgment found that President Jacob Zuma, who serves at the pleasure of Parliament, the representative of the people, violated the Constitution. Mbete failed to guide the institution to discipline the president. How are ordinary citizens expected to respect the law when the lawmakers (Parliament) and those who are supposed to implement the law (the leader of the executive) are free to disregard the law? 

Mbete has found it easy to harass opposition MPs for “disrupting the business of the House”. She even hired bouncers to “kick out” Economic Freedom Fighters MPs who demanded accountability from Zuma. But she is yet to hire bouncers to deal with a president who regularly disrupts the functioning of the whole state, the country and his own cabinet. She doesn’t find it odd that some MPs walk out when Zuma appears before the House.

In another judgment, the Constitutional Court made damning findings against Mbete’s conduct. It found that she muffled debates by being intolerant of opposition views and rushing to evict MPs she disagrees with. Despite this finding, the ANC disregarded calls from the opposition that she be removed from her position because she is far from being impartial. If senior ANC leaders were serious about forcing Zuma out of power, they would start with the low-hanging fruit: Mbete. 

Recently, the Supreme Court of Appeal found that her muzzling of the media in Parliament was unlawful. She has been a steadfast defender of apartheid-era rules that literally made her the ultimate national editor-in-chief who decides what South Africans should know or not know about their Parliament. In terms of such rules the media was banned from broadcasting material that could harm the dignity of the House. Whenever there was a fracas, the rules demanded that the cameras should focus on the speaker. Ironically, it’s the speaker’s conduct that is tarnishing the dignity of Parliament. 

Instead of erring on the side of transparency and insisting on reforms, she, the leader of the institution that represents the people, found such archaic rules palatable and enforced them.

Mbete has allowed Zuma to run amok in the House. He has on several occasions lied to Parliament. He has mocked MPs. Mbete reacted by egging Zuma on. Outside Parliament he once said MPs were “sick” and needed healing. He once suggested that Parliament was a source of embarrassment and people abroad often asked him about it. He even threatened not to appear before the House to answer questions, as if doing so was optional. Mbete has done nothing to protect Parliament from such attacks. She has never demanded an apology from Zuma for not telling the truth on Nkandla. She knows full well that the source of the troubles is her failure to insist on holding Zuma to account, or at the very least allow those who want to hold him to account to do so.

The consequences of Mbete’s failure to provide leadership in Parliament are there for all to see. ANC MPs, who have aided the undermining of Parliament not because they like it but as a way of singing for their supper that is dished from Luthuli House, have themselves lost respect for the institution. They had to be dragged to the chamber to pass the budget. 

Mbete did nothing to deal with the crisis of delaying the passing of the budget, leaving the matter to the ANC caucus. There is no doubt that ANC MPs don’t hold Mbete in high regard. But they can’t replace her because she is also the chairperson of their party. Any move to remove her would require a marathon meeting of the national executive committee in Irene, Pretoria.

It’s not the MPs alone who no longer hold the institution in high regard. Characters like Hlaudi Motsoeneng and the incompetent SABC board members have shown utter disrespect for Parliament. Motsoeneng even has the guts to tackle ANC Chief Whip Jackson Mthembu who, as a member of Parliament, demanded accountability from the SABC leadership. Absent Mbete’s leadership and stature, Mthembu has resorted to the courts to seek recourse. 

Public Protector Busisiwe Mkhwebane recently declined an invitation to appear before Parliament’s ad-hoc committee tasked with probing corporate governance collapse at the SABC. She said she preferred to send officials from her office to testify provided they do so in camera. Her conduct is no doubt condescending to Parliament. But we know that the source of this condescending attitude is not Mkhwebane, who would rather go around giving lectures before producing a single investigative report of national importance. The source of the disrespect is Baleka Mbete.

Even the incompetent SABC board chairman Mbulaheni Maguvhe has the temerity to interdict Parliament from doing its work including the easiest part which is merely to confirm that he is incompetent. Parliament and the SABC will have to dig into taxpayers’ pockets to fund this useless legal process whose outcome we can almost certainly predict. 

Mbete has opened floodgates for despicable actions against Parliament. Her failure to provide leadership raises questions about her alleged presidential ambitions. She has demonstrated beyond a reasonable doubt that she would be a disastrous president.

* Mkhabela is station manager at Power FM and writes a weekly column for News24.

Disclaimer: News24 encourages freedom of speech and the expression of diverse views. The views of columnists published on News24 are therefore their own and do not necessarily represent the views of News24.

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